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Banish awkward silences! Expert ways to kickstart a conversation

29 Apr 2015 by Sarah Leembruggen.

The process is not as overwhelming as it sounds when you have a few go-to icebreakers and conversation techniques in your back pocket.  We’ve come up with a few key tips to help get your conversation off to a great start and leave a lasting impression, which – with a bit of luck – will lead to valuable partnerships and successful outcomes.

Ask open questions

Avoid anything that can be answered in a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You want to start conversing after all, so keep your questions broad:

‘How do you come to be here today?’

‘What’s your connection with this group?’  

‘What’s your interest in this event/conference/seminar/training?’

Find common ground

If you’re at a work-related event, the chances are you will have many professional things in common that should be rich pickings for quality conversation. Build on any connections you might have like mutual acquaintances, previous workplaces or colleagues. If you don’t have any obvious links, talk about work in general:

‘How is business at the moment?’

‘What’s the main challenge in your role/for your company in this market?’

Ask follow-up questions

Once you’ve opened the conversation and things are moving, you can keep it going by picking up on things your partner says. This is a great technique for rapport building and, done well, it will leave a lasting impression beyond the event.

‘You say you’ve come from Manchester. I’ve never been – what’s it like as a city?’

‘You say you worked on the local election campaign. Tell me more about it.’

React positively

You might be talking about something that doesn’t interest you, but your reaction is important. A positive reaction will reflect back well on you and be remembered once you’ve moved on; so it’s worthwhile finding their anecdotes amusing, their remarks engaging and their hobbies fascinating:

‘You enjoy night fishing! That’s interesting. What got you into that?’

‘You won six awards last year. Congratulations! What were they all for?’

‘You get how many visitors to your Facebook page? Wow! How do you achieve that /manage that/maintain that?’

Use the news

The news is a great source of conversation, be it professional news, celebrity news, breaking news, sport or social media. A lot of communications professionals make a habit of always checking the news headlines before going to an event. You can draw on any of these areas very effectively:

‘Did you hear who’s been appointed as the new Communications Director for…?’

‘Did you watch the match last night?’

‘I saw something really interesting on Twitter...’

Move on

If you’re networking, you won’t want to stick in one place, chatting to the same person for too long – even less so if the conversation is going nowhere. Exchanging business cards creates a nice buffer. Other ways to exit could be:

‘Excuse me. I must get another drink.’

‘It’s been nice meeting you, but I must mingle.’

‘I’m so sorry, but I must just make a call.’

‘I’ve just spotted someone I’d like to catch – would you excuse me?’

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve when it comes to starting a new conversation?  We’d love to hear them.

The Works specialise in placing high flyers in PR and corporate communications. We have a strong track record of placing with professional services and offer career-making advice. Do get in touch if you would like our support building your team.

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